Action research to develop relationship-building practices for children in permanent care

Stream: Permanency practice in out-of-home care
Date: Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Time: 1.25 pm – 2.25 pm


When the courts permanently remove children from their families due to child protection, one of the biggest challenges is maintaining appropriate, sustainable relationships with family members. In NSW, most long-term foster and kinship carers, legal guardians and adoptive parents are expected to maintain regular contact with the child’s birth relatives. Yet there is little evidence-based guidance for building positive connections between children’s families and managing the risk of re-traumatisation. Carer and birth families require support and guidance from skilled practitioners to navigate a very complex set of dynamics and to keep the child’s needs paramount. For Aboriginal children in particular, who are most likely to be in Kinship placements, the complex Kinship interrelationships and obligations among extended family and community must be factored into caseworkers’ relationship-building practices. This session will discuss action research to engage New South Wales out-of-home care agencies to develop relationship-building practices that promote positive relationships between children and their birth families. This project was inspired by research on the experiences of carers, birth parents and children with contact, from the Pathways of Care Longitudinal Study and other qualitative research by this research team. This session will profile the different stages of research, which includes synthesising evidence on trauma-informed approaches; distilling messages about physical and emotional safety at contact; and assessing and building the capacity of professionals to implement trauma-informed contact plans. Implications for practices aimed at fostering a sense of belonging and emotionally secure relationships for children in out-of-home care will be highlighted.


Amy Conley Wright (Presenter), University of Sydney
Amy Conley Wright is Associate Professor of Social Work and Director of the Institute of Open Adoption Studies, University of Sydney. She is also Honorary Senior Fellow at Early Start Research Institute, University of Wollongong. Her research focuses on permanency for children in out-of-home care, with current projects on Family Group Conferencing, family contact for children in permanent care and foster carer recruitment and training. Amy previously held academic positions in social work and child development in Australia and the USA. She has served as a board member and consultant on child and family services for government and non-government organisations.

Susan Collings (Presenter), University of Sydney
Susan Collings is Research Fellow at the University of Sydney’s Institute of Open Adoption Studies. Her professional background in casework management and practice informs her approach to applied research. She uses collaborative and participatory methods informed by practice-based wisdom and lived experience. Her current research aims to build consensus on the casework skills and practices need to support children and families affected by child protection and out-of-home-care, including support for birth family contact.

Judy Cashmore (Presenter), University of Sydney
Professor Judith Cashmore AO has a PhD in developmental psychology and a Masters degree in education. Her research concerns children's involvement in civil and criminal proceedings and other processes in which decisions are made about children's lives. She has worked as a consultant to various government agencies and been involved in numerous state and federal government committees concerning children and families, including as Member of the Judicial Commission of New South Wales since 2004. She was co-recipient of the 2013 Stanley Cohen Distinguished Research Award for outstanding research and/or research achievements in the field of family and divorce.

Lynette Riley (Presenter), University of Sydney
Lynette Riley is a Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi woman from Dubbo and Moree. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in the University of Sydney, Sydney School of Education and Social Work. Lynette has more than 30 years working experience as a teacher and in Aboriginal education and administration within primary schools, high schools, TAFE, state office and universities. She is well known for her promotion of Aboriginal culture, particularly Kinship presentations and the associated online module. In July 2014, the University of Sydney launched the online learning tool 'Kinship Module,' largely based on research conducted by Riley and colleagues.